Philadelphia Art Alliance showcases work created with a single tool

The Philadelphia Art Alliance, in Rittenhouse Square, is exhibiting art made under artificially imposed restrictions.

“The Tool at Hand” is a part art show and part conceptual game, wherein participants were instructed to created a piece of art using only one tool.


The exhibition features objects made with only a caulking gun or a rolling mill or a utility knife. It’s on loan and curated by Ethan Lasser for the Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee. (He recently moved to a position at Harvard.)

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The pieces range from conceptual wall hangings (wood panels cut into shapes based on visualized data patterns) to globby, translucent sculptures made of solidified caulk. Each object is accompanied by a video made by the artist, explaining how the piece was made.

“It’s not about selecting the most beautiful, elegant objects you’ve ever seen. These are experiments,” said Sarah Archer, a curator at the Philadelphia Art Alliance who coordinated this traveling exhibition. “Some of them are a little funky. Some of them are very atypical of what the artists make, if you know them.”

Several of the artists took the concept of “single tool” liberally. A glassmaker clearly used several tools to make a bowl; a more conservative artist made a spiral wooden bowl using just pieces of dowel and glue.

Archer extended the game to local Philadelphia artists, with a call for submissions for work made with a single tool. “Left to Your One Device” is a competitive submission process, with prizes on the line.

One of the artists is Casey Gleason, a jewelry maker who graduated from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art three years ago. While there, she worked with a lot of computer-assisted drafting software and 3-D printers.

“At school I had access to anything I wanted: digital tools, high-tech tools, low-tech tools, all of it was there,” said Gleason. “After school, I had a saw, a file, and some sandpaper. I was really lost because I was used to having everything. The idea of using one tool is something that art schools might want to incorporate into lessons with students, especially when they are close to graduating.”

Gleason now works with a small company in Northeast Philadelphia making custom furniture. Her job gives her access to a wide variety of power tools. For her submission, she made a footstool out of folded sheet metal, using only a drill press.

In the spirit of the exhibition — to rethink the nature of the tools and exploit them in inventive ways — she used the drill press to perforate a folding line, then used the weight of the tool’s stand as a lever to bend the stool into shape.

“After school I got reinterested in working with my hands,” said Gleason. “Not becoming a slave to a computer, and not being out of luck when the apocalypse happens.”

Should the apocalypse take down the Internet, at least mankind will have an elegant and comfortable place to rest its feet.

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